Yesterday I watched Midnight in Paris on a plane. It was my fourth time watching this Woody Allen film. When it first came out, I had watched it three times in a row because it resonated so deeply with me.
The protagonist is a writer struggling to find fulfillment in life. He blames his discontentment on not being born in an inspiring era – specifically not being able to experience Paris in the 1920’s. In a strange turn of events, he accidentally finds a way back into the past to that very time and place, encountering long-passed idols such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Cole Porter.
On these midnight jaunts to his most desired moments in history, he learns that it’s not that his life would have been better if he were born in the past but rather that life, no matter when or where he was born, can feel somewhat disappointing. And he must muster the courage to listen to his own heart and make the very best of the life he has.
These themes hit home for me. It is less the wanting to be born in another time that resonates and more the feelings of being discontented and almost inhibited by my surroundings.
For years, I have had a sense of being unsettled. I seldom felt that where I called home was truly where I should make my home. Living in LA and in NYC, I just didn’t feel a synergy. And I had a deep sense that I had not yet found my place, my home.
I remember confiding in friends about this rather fundamental dilemma. And two of my oldest friends both gave me the same exact piece of advice, independently of each other. They said, “Kate, maybe it is just a case of wherever you are, there you are.”
Basically, they were saying it didn’t matter where I lived – that it was all in my head.
Their words hit hard. These sentiments coming from my oldest, best friends worsened my fears that I’d never find the satisfaction I yearned for – that I’d never find my place.
I reasoned with myself, remembering these friends were also two people who had not traveled like I had. They had not seen and felt the glowing glory, the dew-iest dew, and freest freedom that I had while traveling in other parts of the world.
To be clear, it was Europe that had my heart. I intuitively felt a sense of home while there. But at that time in my life, I never dared to move continents for good. The sacrifice of being far from family and life as I knew it felt way too scary. I had given up that dream long before I even allowed it to fully form in my conscious mind.
Both Midnight in Paris and my two friends were expressing a similar points of view. That is, we should learn to feel fulfilled with the life we have. But there is also a subtle difference.
My friends were telling me to accept and surrender, work on my own psychology and learn to love the status quo. Alternatively, the movie encourages us to listen to that little voice inside and make the most of our lives, initiating what opportunities and actions that are in our control.
I now believe that fulfillment is acquired by employing a mix of both perspectives. We must build that muscle that allows us to be positive right now, no matter our circumstances. It also requires us to boldly have the courage to take action toward what our intuition calls us to do.
Of course in real life, it is impossible to go back into history. But it is a very real possibility to move countries. Change jobs. Change careers. Deliberately choose who we spend our time with. Elect to prioritize certain values and routines over others.
The funniest thing was, I actually met Woody Allen a year or so after this film was released. It was at the celebration of the opening of an Off-Broadway play he co-authored that starred my aunt, Marlo Thomas.
In the millisecond I had to seize the opportunity to talk to him, I told him how much I loved the film. He replied with (and I paraphrase) ‘ya, what am I doing in NYC? I should be in beautiful Paris instead. Isn’t life so much more enjoyable there?’
It only just hit me this instant the irony in his remarks. He may have really felt that way – echoing both my and his protagonist’s feelings. Or he may have been saying that to evoke the themes of the movie. I’ll never know.
In any case, Paris is amazing – even still today. And I will one day make it my home. I’ve already jumped the pond living now, happily in London.